Which Type of Nail Gun or Nailer Do You Need for the Job?

Updated on August 16, 2017

Ahh…the good old claw hammer. Such a wonderfully ubiquitous construction tool. Especially if you’re just putting up a picture on the wall. Or doing a quick repair on something, or just venting your frustration… But seriously...if the job is more involved, and you’ll be hammering away until you’ve got a headache…you’ll really want to get a nail gun, or nailer.

Not only does a nail gun save you a hell of a lot of time, you’ll save yourself the headache as well. Instead of mulitiple taps to get than nail in, you’ll need only one from the nail gun…pow!..and it’s in. When it comes to nail guns, unfortunately one size doesn’t fit all. You need one that best fits the job at hand. There are several different types for specific jobs...

A Word about Safety, First

Any tool can be dangerous in the wrong hands. This is especially so for power tools. While nail guns have been designed to not fire unless the pressure tip is first pressed against the work, you can still accidentally tap it against something if you’re pressing the trigger as well (see dual-contact firing, just below).

There are two types of firing mechanisms in a nail gun. One is dual-contact firing, where the nail will fire as long as you hold down the trigger and press the nosing against the work. This allows you to fire a nail, move to the next spot and continue with a series of nails without having to release and re-press the trigger each time.

The other is sequential firing, which is a bit safer. This requires that you release the trigger first, before each nail is fired. The nosing must be pressed onto the work before the trigger will function. Improvements in safety of nail guns is ongoing.

Be alert at all times...please.

Framing Nailers

Let’s start with the heaviest duty nailer..the framing nailer. As the name suggests, this type of nailer is used for wood framing in a building, and heavy construction. This frequently requires up to 3½” nails to join 2x4’s. Heavy-duty is the order of the day. All these models offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.

Porter-Cable FR350A & Hitachi NR90AEPR Framing Nailers.
Porter-Cable FR350A & Hitachi NR90AEPR Framing Nailers.

Roofing Nailers

The next type is a roofing nailer. This generally uses shorter nails with larger heads, and can also be used for siding and similar materials as well. The nails usually come on a coil. These models also offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.

Bostitch RN46 & Milwaukee 7120-21 Roofing nailers
Bostitch RN46 & Milwaukee 7120-21 Roofing nailers

Flooring Nailers

Our next type is a flooring nailer. These are specially designed to make laying tongue-and-groove floor boards simple and fast. You won’t have to wear out your knees. You simply hold the nailer against the edge of the board and a moderate whack on the plunger with the nylon mallet, and the nail is in..at the right angle and the right depth..every time.

Ramsond RMM4 & Bostitch MIIIFN Flooring nailers
Ramsond RMM4 & Bostitch MIIIFN Flooring nailers

Finishing Nailers

The finishing nailer is your best all-around nailer for indoor trim and similar jobs.    This uses shorter, lighter gauge nails, usually 14 to 16 gauge, 1” to 2½” nails.  This is used for mouldings around windows and doors, baseboards, chair rails and such, as well as cabinet making.  Finishing nailers are available both as air compression and as cordless nailers. All these models offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.

Hitachi NT65MA2 & DeWALT DC628K XRP Finishing nailers
Hitachi NT65MA2 & DeWALT DC628K XRP Finishing nailers

Brad Nailers

A lighter duty nailer is a brad nailer for 18-gauge nails, 5/8” to 2”. Brad nailers differ from the finishing nailers mostly by the fact that the nail magazine is not angled as with finishing and framing nailers. The brad nailer is usually used for smaller wood projects, upholstery and other such precision work. While the brads are small, and leave a fairly tiny hole to fill, they hold really well. As with most nailers these days, all these models offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.

DEWALT DC608K & Porter-Cable BN200B Brad nailers
DEWALT DC608K & Porter-Cable BN200B Brad nailers

About cordless nailers

The cordless nailers are currently more expensive than the pneumatic models, but of course they don’t require that you have a compressor, or a hose to deal with. Some cordless nailers use a fuel cell for nail propulsion, which needs to be replaced every 500 nails though, so you have to take that cost into account.

The battery-charged models don’t have such a requirement. The cordless, use-it-anywhere aspect is the real selling feature here, much like cordless drills have freed up the necessity of a power cord.

That pretty much nails it…

While nail guns (or nailers) have been around for about 25 years, many refinements have been made. Newer materials like magnesium and aluminum alloys have made the tools lighter. Plus more attention has been paid to ergonomic design, so that the tool is properly balanced and easier to grip. Adjusting the firing method no longer requires a special tool. Adjusting the depth of the nail no longer requires adjusting the air compressor.

Cordless models which don’t require a compressor, and therefore a hose are now widely available. Whether you’re a professional contractor or a DIY homeowner, you’ll find you get the job done in less than half the time it would have taken with a hammer and nails.

Many of these nailers could pay for themselves in no time.

© 2011 timorous

Your comments are welcome...

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    • profile image

      Jim C 3 weeks ago

      Thanks very helpful.

    • timorous profile image

      timorous 7 months ago from Me to You

      Hi Lacreatia; To answer your question..no, not really. A framing nailer uses much thicker and longer nails, and is more powerful. It's built for the purpose, just like the other nailers.

      Within the same brand, you may get away with the small overlap in nail sizes between a brad nailer and finishing nailer, but in general they are purpose-built, and the nail magazines are not interchangeable between different type nailers.

      A finishing nailer is a good all-round device, as long as you're not doing fine upholstery on the one hand, or building a house on the other. A one-size-fits-all nailer would be a compromise, and a lot less efficient, I suspect.

    • profile image

      Lacreatia 7 months ago

      Can you just buy a one certain nail gun like a finishing nail gun but change the nails like if you wanted to frame instead of buying all the different types?????

    • profile image

      Anjana 2 years ago

      ITW appears be ofrnfeieg this tool under both their Duo-Fast and Paslode brands. Unfortunately both seem not to be up to bump firing (maybe too much to ask for a cordless roof nailer). I guess the target application is for small jobs but for small jobs often as not we just pull out boxes of nails and a hammer

    • profile image

      Amory 2 years ago

      Your articles are for when it abstuloely, positively, needs to be understood overnight.

    • profile image

      Johna594 3 years ago

      Oh my goodness! an amazing article dude. Thanks Nonetheless I am experiencing issue with ur rss . Don't know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting similar rss drawback? Anybody who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx agcdeaegkece

    • timorous profile image

      timorous 5 years ago from Me to You

      Flooring nailers are generally about $100 more, mostly because of the added complexity of a plunger mechanism. Of course the top brand names cost more, but they're generally of a higher quality than the house brands at some hardware stores. Hope that helps.

    • timorous profile image

      timorous 6 years ago from Me to You

      Oh..you can still yell..but it will be more of a 'eureka' moment, when realizing how much work you are saving. Not to mention the bruised fingernail...

      Thanks for checking out the article, sofs. Cheers.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 6 years ago

      Ha! now you don't have to yell after hammering your finger with a nail I suppose and no more black nails . Good one Tim, may be I will look it up!